Music to your ears: January reviews
By Fever Ray (Rabid Records, RABID061T, CD, LP and digital)
Beyond all other musics, electronic is the best vehicle for artful manipulations – especially those that surround gender and sexuality. This is not exactly news for Karin Dreijer, the Swedish artist behind, first The Knife, and most recently, Fever Ray.
Plunge sees her articulating these ideas with commendable boldness. Eight years in the making, it’s a stunning piece of work that spans Dreijer’s personal liberation into a more fluid sexuality. This album is a dive into the waters of queer desire, a delirious pool flooded with the currents of social power structures. An online manifesto, co-written with conceptual artist Hannah Black, makes this clear.
As in the past, Dreijer presses her case through songs framed by digital beats, off-key twangings, scratchy, tactile, sonic textures, minor-chord synth washes and a voice which is often flanged to accentuate her unsettling presence. Plunge’s 11 songs slide an explicit sexuality into a discourse informed by feminism and Foucault. This comes out most clearly on ‘This Country’ with its call for sexual and political freedom. When she shouts, ‘No nuclear!’ it’s not atomic power she’s thinking of.
‘Red Trails’, with Sara Parkman’s tense violin lines overlaying a pattering electronic beat, focuses on a derailed love which to wait for is like waiting ‘for a drug that never kicks in’. A song that’s painful in all the right ways, it’s also Fever Ray at its most beautiful and it frames Plunge as a powerfully sexy and knowing album.
by Toto Bona Lokua (Nø Førmat! NF39, CD, LP and digital)
A little bit of birdsong gives Bondeko its insouciant kick-start – a nice touch to this gentle, feel-good album from Richard Bona, Lokua Kanza and Gerald Toto. Bondeko (the word means friendship in Ligala) celebrates not only the relationship between the trio of musicians – they are from Cameroon, the DR Congo, and the French Antilles respectively – but a mélange of musical heritages. Sung in a mixture of French and Ligala, the lingua franca here is actually a smooth and breezy showcase of vocal mastery.
Toto Bona Lokua achieve much with a minimum of instrumentation: tightly woven acoustic guitars and some light percussion characterize the jazzy, rhythmical music, while closely harmonized vocals drive the songs forward. This is most evident on songs like ‘Love Train’, an acapella that fits Kanza’s lead vocals around the chugging and hooting of the train; or on the lovely ‘Youwile’, a track that murmurs and sighs its quiet progress.
This is the second album from the trio whose 2004 debut, Totobonalokua, established them as musicians capable of surfing through various styles with agility. Between trio duties, each musician works with such artists as the French-Algerian rai singer Faudel, Bobby McFerrin and Quincy Jones – these two latter names giving an idea of the slinky smoothness of Bondeko.